Campaign to stop violence against Christians in India on square in front of United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland on June 23, 2021 during a session of the UN Human Rights Council. (Photo: © Peter Kenny)
Indian bishops seek fair deal for Dalit Christians, as discrimination battle extends as far as US
Roman Catholic bishops in southern Indian state of Kerala have launched a campaign to mobilize political support to end long-running discrimination against Dalit Christians in the country.
The discrimination against Dalits does not occur in India but extends even to the United States where efforts are being made against the caste system which is legally outlawed in India.
Dalits were once labelled as untouchable, are an officially Scheduled Caste, formerly Harijan, in traditional Indian society, it was name for any member of a wide range of low-caste Hindu groups and any person outside the caste system.
The bishops have handed over a document to India’s federal ministers, parliamentarians, and state legislators to seek their support for the cause, UCA Catholic news reported.
They are seeking to end all forms of social discrimination and economic deprivation suffered by Dalit Christians and appealed to all regional bishops to make similar efforts.
Dalits are the lowest stratum of the Hindu caste system.
Many of them have converted to Buddhism, Sikhism, Christianity and Islam. Christian and Muslim Dalits are excluded from special welfare benefits such as reservations for government jobs, education institutions and elections.
Since the 1950s, Dalit Christians have been fighting this discrimination unsuccessfully. In 2004, Dalit Christians filed a petition with the Supreme Court for their constitutional rights to equality.
In the United States, in late January, California State University added caste to its non-discrimination policy, Time magazine reported on Feb. 11.
With more than 437,000 students and 44,000 employees statewide, it is the largest academic institution to do so.
But it is not alone. Brandeis University was the first to take this step in 2019. University of California, Davis, Colby College, Colorado College, the Claremont colleges, and Carleton University followed suit.
In August 2021, the California Democratic Party added caste as a protected category to their Party Code of Conduct.
And in December 2021, the Harvard Graduate Student Union ratified its collective bargaining agreement, which included caste as a protected category for its members.
Time said, “Caste is a descent-based structure of inequality in which privilege works through the control of land, labor, education, media, white-collar professions and political institutions.
“Some 70 years after independence from colonial rule, the specter of casteism continues to haunt South Asia. The unequal inheritances of caste shape every aspect of social life, from education to marriage, housing, and employment.”
Caste discrimination still plagues all South Asian societies, including India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, and Sri Lanka reported Times.
Until today, oppressed castes are subject to stigma on the basis of perceived social and intellectual inferiority, and often consigned to the most exploitative segments of the labor market.
Scheduled Caste communities exist across India and comprised 16.6 percent of the country’s population, according to the 2011 Census of India.
Utar Pradesh (21 percent), West Bengal (11 percent), Bihar (8 percent) and Tamil Nadu (7 percent) between them accounted for almost half of India’s total Scheduled Caste population in 2017 according to the Times of India.